A photo exhibit brings Africa into sharp focus

A 24-hour photographic record of the continent

Arts: museums, literature

November 20, 2003|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

Charged with capturing the essence of a continent in a single day, nearly 100 photojournalists journeyed to Africa last winter.

The group spread out and began shooting from the land's 53 countries on Feb. 28.

Over the course of that day and night, they ventured to sparsely populated countryside, colorful markets, lush jungles and bustling cities, all the while framing the varied landscapes and cultural practices in their lenses.

They spent time in schools, stores and cafes, grabbing candid images that showed how people worked and played. They visited nurses, hospices and the terminally ill, snapping pictures that showed how many others lived and died.

The 50,000 shots that were taken in 24 hours are diverse in composition, style and subject matter. Some were composed in black and white, while others were made using color film. The tone of the works varies as well - the photos run the gamut from melancholy to celebratory.

But all of the pieces are authentic visual chronicles, revealing poignant moments in time that address the wide variety of conditions, both natural and social, that exist in Africa.

Part of the resulting A Day in the Life of Africa photo essay is on display at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center on Howard Street, where more than 30 of the 150 exhibited photos from the project will be on view through Jan. 24.

The local display is a small sampling of works from the project that was underwritten in large part by the drug company Pfizer Inc., which for years has initiated public-private partnerships on the continent to help combat health threats such as the potentially blinding eye infection trachoma and AIDS.

The exhibit, which is divided into a number of themes, including care-giving and city and countryside, attempts to reveal the continent's rich history and culture while addressing the endemic health problems it has faced, said Camay Murphy, executive director of the cultural center.

"I think Pfizer saw this as an opportunity to bring to the general public ... the beauty of the countries contrasted by some of the health issues that Africa has," she said.

And though she believes that documenting the devastation of disease is important, Murphy added that the traveling exhibit is a significant body of work because it also showcases positive images of the cultural and economic developments that are taking place in many countries.

Those photographs help to dispel stereotypes, she believes.

"People still think of Africa as being very primitive and very third world. [But] this exhibit shows ... people who are just like us here in America," she said. "[They're] people just trying to make it, day by day."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who worked with Pfizer to ensure that Baltimore would be included in the exhibit's national tour, agreed with Murphy and said that the visual display will further advance and improve America's world view.

In a written statement, Cummings said that the "photographic journey into the center of the people's daily lives on the African continent helps us to better understand and appreciate our shared humanity."

The Eubie Blake Cultural Center is at 847 N. Howard St. Exhibition hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information, call 410-225-3130 or visit www.ditlafrica.com.

For more art events, turn to Page 52.

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